The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most exciting and well-known horse racing events of the year, with prize money second to only the Grand National. Many of the best British and Irish-trained horses push the limits to claim prestigious titles and take home Grade 1 glory. Affectionately known as “The Festival,” the event kicks off on Tuesday, March 13th, and the action continues for a full four days until Friday, March 16th. The Cheltenham Racecourse in Prestbury Park is the venue, set in the glorious Gloucestershire countryside.
Spectators enjoy seven races on each day, including at least one Grade 1 contest per day. The first race of each day begins at 1:30 p.m. and the last race starts at 5:30 p.m. The biggest race of each day starts at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets are still on sale at the Cheltenham Festival website, despite the events’ popularity. Tickets may also be available on the day, but Friday — the day of the Gold Cup — is expected to sell out as usual. For those who are not planning to attend The Festival, ITV will be covering the first five races every day. Further coverage will be available online on various horse racing blogs and podcast sites.
So, what of the races? There are four main championships in the Cheltenham Festival line-up. Tuesday is Champions Day and time for the Champions’ Hurdle. Wednesday is Ladies’ Day, host to the Queen Mother Hurdle Chase and an excellent time for spectators to show off their favorite frocks. Next, it’s St. Patrick’s Thursday, whether it is St Patrick’s Day or not.
On Friday is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the main event of the four-day festival. The Gold Cup is a 3-mile 2 ½ furlong race with a total of 22 daunting jumps. This is the “blue ribbon” of jump racing, and the National Hunt’s most sought-after trophy.
This year Might Bite is the favorite to win, with 3/1 odds on BetStars. After winning the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, Nicky Henderson’s entry is looking solid, despite minor concerns of stamina. Last year’s winner Sizing John is still in the race, but performed poorly over Christmas and has 6/1 odds. Native River made a solid comeback at Newbury, and the experienced entry from Colin Tizzard may steal the show on the day.
Aside from the Grade 1 contests, which tend to hold the limelight when it comes to Cheltenham coverage, The Festival also has exciting races available at all levels, making the event comparable to the Olympics of horse racing. Other notable races include the RSA Chase, Ryanair Chase, the Triumph Hurdle and the Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup. A full list of races over all four days is available here. In the meantime, the final fields for all races will be released by the racing administration firm Weatherbys at around 11 a.m. two days before the festival begins. It is also possible to place ante-post bets before official announcements are made.